Essex2045 Plan Moves Forward

On December 15th, I attended a virtual meeting of a Stakeholder Advisory Committee on the Essex2045 plan for the next 20 years of transportation in Essex County. In a study funded by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association, Mercer Planning Associates, the consultants running the program, had conducted surveys and hosted 2 pop-up kiosks and participated in 2 safety fairs with University Hospital. The events were held in October and early November in Orange, West Orange, Irvington, and Newark. In West Orange and Irvington, a complex intersection was chosen and a demo “parklet” was outlined as a feature to gauge the reactions of passers-by. Study personnel were on the scene to explain the project and gather reactions on sticky notes. Overall, those reactions were positive, with more than half wanting to keep the demonstration projects installed permanently. Many people were pleased to see attention paid to underserved locations, emphasizing the need to make interventions in these areas a priority.

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Report from the Chair: Jan./Feb. 2023

A new year starts this month: my 3rd as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson, and NJ Transit Rail’s 41st. The Coalition has a new Web site, the forum is back in operation, and we are looking forward to being the advocate host of the Rail Users’ Network’s in-person conference in the spring. Our resolution supporting the expansion of weekend service on the Montclair-Boonton line caught the attention of Board Member James Adams, who asked Kevin Corbett to look into the possibilities and interest of local communities. We continue to look for more transparency from NJ Transit, something for which we have advocated for years, if not decades.

The lack of a so-called Customer Advocate has become almost absurd; every meeting, there are at least a few members of the public asking about it, yet no progress—possibly because they have written a job description impossible to fill. How about just expanding telephone support hours? 6 a.m. to midnight would be great; we’d settle for a 10 p.m. closing, instead of the current 5 p.m.—actually earlier, as I have had the switchboard shut off at 4:50 when I was holding. Wouldn’t you expect that operators would answer the questions of those on hold before leaving? We all like to leave our office on time, but providing the best customer service means giving just a little extra. However, that should only rarely be a consideration: one would expect that shift schedules would allow workers to answer all waiting calls and still clock out on time.

Officer Elections Held at December Meeting

At its Dec. 19th meeting, held a week early because of the Christmas holiday on Monday, Dec. 26th, the Lackawanna Coalition elected officers for 2023. The slate of officers was accepted by acclimation: Chairperson, Sally Jane Gellert, Woodcliff Lake (Pascack Valley line); Vice Chairperson, Robert Hingel, Short Hills (Morris & Essex line); Treasurer, Brad Payeur, Gillette (Gladstone Branch); Secretary, Daniel Chazin, Teaneck (Pascack Valley line); Legislative Director, Vito Havrilla, Bloomfield (Montclair-Boonton line), Technical Director, David Anderson, Newark (multiple lines). The speaker for the evening was Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan with a presentation on the early years of NJ Transit Rail. We thank member Elaine Becker for her traditional hospitality.

Lackawanna Coalition membership is open to all interested in rail service, with the group’s focus primarily on NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex line. The Coalition was started in April 1979, a few months before NJ Transit itself was formed, by Millburn commuters concerned with the quality of their rail service. We still meet in Millburn Town Hall. Membership in the Coalition is open to Counties ($250), Communities ($150), and Individuals ($15). Meetings are accessible online through Maestro Conference (phone) or Jitsi (video). For information, e-mail info@lackawannacoalition.org.

Coalition Calls for Hourly Weekend Service for Montclair and Hoboken

At its November meeting, the Lackawanna Coalition passed a resolution calling on NJ Transit to start running hourly service between Montclair and Hoboken on Saturdays and Sundays, no later than the beginning of the next fiscal year this coming July 1.

The principal “Resolved” clause says: “the Lackawanna Coalition calls for New Jersey Transit to implement hourly weekend passenger-rail service between Hoboken and Montclair State University stations, scheduled for connections with Morris & Essex Line trains at Broad Street Station in Newark, as the trains that run on the current schedule are scheduled for such connections. . .”

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NJ Transit Rail Celebrates 40th Anniversary

It has now been slightly more than 40 years since NJ Transit started running its trains under its own flag. While the different lines were originally operated by historical railroads, such as the Morris & Essex (M&E), Gladstone, and Montclair lines by the Lackawanna Railroad until 1960, the statewide system was run by the Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), with help from the Commuter Operating Agency (COA) at the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

According to Coalition member Jim Blaze, who worked as a manager for Conrail at the time, Congress mandated in 1981 that Conrail had to give up its local passenger operations by the end of 1982. In a hurry, and just in time for New Years’ Day1983, 3 regional railroads were born: Metro-North in New York State, NJ Transit Rail, and SEPTA Regional Rail in the Philadelphia area.

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Former LC Chair Is Closing Speaker at Boston Conference

Lackawanna Coalition Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan will be speaking at the Light Rail 2022 conference, presented by Railway Age and RT&S in Boston, November 16 and 17. His talk will be the wrap-up closing presentation, on the topic of “The Future of Light Rail”. Since stepping down as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson in December 2020, Dave has focused on journalism, reporting on transit for publications including Railway Age, for which he is a contributing editor. New Jersey will be well represented at the conference; also speaking at the conference will be NJ Transit President/CEO Kevin Corbett and Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. This is a return to an in-person conference after being all virtual since 2020.

Rail Users’ Conference Calls for More “Southern Comfort” in Travel

The Rail Users’ Network (RUN) held an online conference on Saturday, October 29. The event focused on Amtrak, private-sector passenger rail, and rail transit in the South. It was the latest in a series of semi-annual conferences that placed the spotlight on rail in different regions across the country. Presenters included advocates in the South and managers there who are developing new rail services.

Topics included expansion of Amtrak services in Virginia, construction of a new line by Brightline (a new private-sector passenger railroad) to expand service to Orlando Airport and later to Tampa, the ongoing battle to establish Amtrak trains between New Orleans and Mobile, and expanding rail in Texas.

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Report from the Chair

Our Website update had the unexpected consequence of knocking our forum offline temporarily—we are getting that restored to its old spot on the original Website, as connecting it to the new site will take some creativity and technical magic (we do have someone working on the latter option; watch for updates as we figure out what is possible). What is working well on the new site is our updated Station Inspection form. The Lackawanna Coalition is reviving our 1990s practice of checking on station conditions and reporting our findings. Members will be watching their local stations, and we hope all our readers will take advantage of the form to let us know what is good or bad at their local station and at others that they visit, so that we can compile information for NJ Transit. We and NJ-ARP have been advocating for riders for a long time, and with your help in documenting station conditions, we can make our case—and yours—at NJ Transit.

Earlier this month, I attended a virtual meeting held by our host municipality, Millburn Township, about planned improvements around the Short Hills train station. Although I looked for the video recording on the town website, it has apparently not yet been posted, so my thoughts later in this article are from my participation late in the program. What was clear is that community suggestions are being accepted and given due consideration.

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Essex County Transportation Plan 2045 Comes to Lackawanna Coalition

On October 24, David Antonio, Director of Planning for Essex County, came to the Lackawanna Coalition meeting to present Essex County’s “Essex 2045” transportation project. The project is to create a plan for all aspects of transportation in Essex County and to have a vision for what Essex Country transportation will be like in the next 20 years. A grant for this project came from North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. The previous plan was the Essex County Comprehensive Plan of June 2013.

Input on improving public transportation was, of course, the reason for Mr. Antonio’s invitation. Gathering of public input comes through a web-based application via survey questions and a mapping tool. A major point of the presentation was pedestrian safety. Bloomfield Avenue is one of the busiest and most dangerous streets in New Jersey. Although upgraded infrastructure has been installed on Bloomfield Avenue in recent years, more work needs to be done to ensure pedestrian safety.

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Ten Years Ago: Hurricane Sandy Devastated Our Transit and More

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Sandy pounded this part of the country, bringing transit in New York City and New Jersey to a standstill. Sandy was one of the worst storms in history, causing $70 billion in damage and killing 233 people in eight countries, from the Caribbean to Canada. Sandy has often been compared to Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005.

Even though Sandy hit the region on Monday, October 29, with barely hurricane strength, the unique configuration and the extreme extent of the region’s damage led local media and even the National Weather Service to dub the extra-tropical cyclone “Superstorm Sandy.” Low-lying areas were particularly hard-hit; among these were the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, the Jersey Shore, and Hoboken, and unexpectedly, some inland areas across the region. Millions were left without power, and millions were left without transit.

Transit Hit Hard

Transit came back in the Philadelphia area within a few days, and the New York subways came back over the course of a week, as did Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. It took longer in New Jersey, as New Jersey Transit (NJT) chronicled in a number of press releases, which can still be found on the NJT website.

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